The Art of Information Writing

I sent a teacher semi-overboard yesterday. That is how I enjoy starting my weeks. Here is what happened:

It was a warm sunny day, low 70’s, and I stood outside my teacher’s classroom door, waiting for all 26 kiddos to be dismissed. I took in the heat of the sun and concentrated on the way it made my black pants deliciously warm. Once the children had all exited, I walked inside and we both took a seat, sitting side by side.

Me: So how did you feel about your lesson?
Teacher: Well, I was kind of worried it wouldn’t work, but then I saw the kids really getting it and I moved from group to group. We were ready to start planning. I need to find a way so that they can read their books before workshop starts. But I am not sure how to do that, and I have some kids who struggle. They can barely put a word on the page.

Me: hmmm, so let’s put that thought about how to balance content with writing on hold for a moment, we will get to it, but let’s look at the lesson …what did you feel went well?
Teacher: My lowest student was able to work with his group and they all filled in some part of the note-taking sheet. I am really proud of Jonathan because he hardly ever writes anything and today he did a bit of reading. With his group’s help he even jotted some notes.

Me: I see…how about you? What teaching moves did you feel worked in the lesson?
Teacher: (pause) Well, my team and I had already planned this lesson a long time ago, you see we’re working towards helping students write an essay about a famous person and this lesson was all about taking notes from the book so they could use it to help write the essay.
Me: (I rattle of a few strong teaching moves first then I ask:) Let’s take a look at the note-taking sheet (teacher pulls out a stapled packet of 4 sheets, copied back to back). Tell me how this supported the students today and how it lined up with your teaching point.
Teacher: (smiling a smile that lets me know he thinks I am clueless) The students are pulling information from their books and this will help them organize it. The last time I taught informational, it was a mess. None of the kids created anything that was organized, there was no way to make sense of it. With this, they have a place to put all the information and then with the structured paragraph, their essay is going to be really organized.
Me: (shoving my foot in my mouth) When you write an informational essay, do you use a note-taking sheet like this one?
Teacher: (silent)
Me: (shoving that foot even deeper) We may not be aware of it, but note-taking sheets such as this one, send a message to writers and when we think about it, when in real life have we used something like this to help us write an email or develop a lesson plan on which we may have had to do some research?
Teacher: (silent and no longer making eye contact)
Me: (knowing I should bail, but refusing to do so) The note taking sheet is going to take quite a while for all the groups to complete, perhaps a week, that is time that could be spent TEACHING them how to go about organizing what they know without a heavily structured note-taking sheet. We need to remember that we are teaching writers and all we are doing is trying to add tools to their writers’ toolbox. The teaching point was to organize their ideas which is great, but how are we going to teach them to do this?
Teacher: (eyes twinkle and suddenly looks up) I know what you are trying to get at…I could use a graphic organizer!
Me: (screaming as loud as I can inside my head) Let’s look at the Unit of Study and see what Lucy suggests…

The conversation goes on, but the more we get into the minilesson and talking about student centered instruction, the writing process, the more tuned out my teacher becomes. I wisely ask, “how are you feeling about our work so far?”
Teacher: I feel like crying!
Me: (in total agreement, but probably for different reasons…)

4 thoughts on “The Art of Information Writing”

  1. FYI. Classic example of how we run to “organization” trying to teach it by a preset structure. Ouch.
    There are way more efficient methods of note taking, for sure. I love boxes and bullets on separate square sticky notes. Moveable, easily revised and separate from the rest of the mess.

  2. Ah, coaching is so hard! Some conversations are harder to have then others. I love your “foot in mouth” comments. It made me feel like i am not the only coach that sometimes has a tough debrief.

  3. How I wish I had a coach to guide me to better teaching. I’m sure it’s painful on both sides at times, but how great that your district values literacy enough to have coaches in the first place!

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